“Luis J. Rodriguez is a singular act in contemporary American literature. Poet, publisher, essayist, fiction and film writer, music producer, children’s author and youth advocate” in the autobiographical narrative Always Running La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A. gives a complete picture about his early life. (Jeff Biggers, Compassion & Community A Profile of Luis J. Rodriguez).
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This was a time when he was engaged in the youth gang culture of Los Angeles. There is an artistic beauty about the work that attracts the readers without time and location barriers. This may be rightly put as the author’s account of his coming to age and the piece is an extra-ordinary narrative and an absolutely unique composition in many respects. The literary and poetic value of the work is immensely great. In the preface of the work Rodriguez gives a short commentary about the work. “This work is not fiction, yet there are people I don’t want hurt by having their names and stories made public. I’ve changed names and synthesized events and circumstances in keeping with the integrity of a literary, dramatic work, as an artist does in striving for that rare instance when, as a critic once said, “something of beauty collides with something of truth.”” (Luis J. Rodriguez. Preface, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1993. p 11). Truly, this is a dazzling autobiography that is greatly abundant with truth along with more profound beauty. In the first analysis of the book we notice the truth that is poured without any breakage in the form of words. The second reading of the book takes us through the poetic and dramatic beauty of the work. In short this is a narrative that catches our attention and moves us forward in the line of author’s captivating voice and style.
Apart from the poetic and literary quality Always Running La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A. has great purpose behind it. It is an imperative account and politically fiery against the notions that the author considered critical to society’s as well as his own bring. There is an obvious intention that drove the author towards this attempt. In the words of the author it may be put as follows. “The more we know, the more we owe. This is a responsibility I take seriously. My hope in producing this work is that perhaps there’s a thread to be found, a pattern or connection, a seed of apprehension herein, which can be of some use, no matter how slight, in helping to end the rising casualty count for the Ramiros of this world, as more and more communities come under the death grip of what we called “The Crazy Life.”(Luis J. Rodriguez. Preface, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1993. p 11)
To understand the work in different way, we can clearly treat it as a work vividly portraying the life in a setting of crime and poverty. The criminality that the author describes has peculiarities of its own. He puts it as follows. “Criminality in this country is a class issue. Many of those warehoused in overcrowded prisons can be properly called “criminals of want,” those who’ve been deprived of the basic necessities of life and therefore forced into so-called criminal acts to survive. Many of them just don’t have the means to buy their “justice.” They are members of a social stratum which includes welfare mothers, housing project residents, immigrant families, the homeless and unemployed. This book is part of their story.” Thus the intention of the author is very well propounded through the narrative..” (Luis J. Rodriguez. Preface, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A Curbstone Press, 1993. p 10). As soon as one begins reading the work, one is taken away to the life of the gangs and one of their members in particular. The age is so peculiar and the life of the individual as well as the society is affected. “We are in a disturbing and dangerous time in our development as a people and a nation”. As early as twelve, Rodriguez was an expert in the gang warfare and the story narrates how the seemingly invisible culture of the gang played a significant impact on his life. In the gang life he had to bear witness to innumerable murders, beatings, and arrests. There were other notorious ways of the gang life that he came to meet such as the uncontrolled use of drugs, suicide, murder, and the nonsensical acts of street crimes etc that claimed the lives of his friends and family members. This real life story is narrated in the most engaging manner so that the readers are caught by the power of his words. The style of narration gives an extra-ordinary sphere to the autobiography and elevates it from the ordinary level of an autobiography.
The autobiography narrates how Rodriguez through the power of education and words came out of the undesirable life. In the prologue of the work we understand that Luis succeeded in getting away with the life of violence and harassment and began to be creative and focused more on the advancement of the people of Chicano. Although he does not aim to focus on the teaching of the people in the autobiography, he is really concerned about his son who got involved in a gang. Rightly the work is dedicated to his son. As the publisher’s comment states the author intends to provide a moving life lesson for the future generations. “Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants. At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-learned lesson for the next generation”.
“W[w]ritten in episodic structure with bits of poetry stuck in,” the autobiography touches many unforgettable events in the life of the author. (“Always Running”-Poetic account of LA Gang Life). Luis along with his family that consisted of his father, mother, and siblings had life that was marked for its flight to and fro Mexico. His father who was a teacher was put to jail for unrevealed reasons. The life became more miserable when it reached Los Angeles and there Luis found himself encircled by La Vida Loca, or The Crazy Life. This was an altogether new experience to Luis and he tries to get attached to the school. However, it was not an easy task for him as the Latino students were considered badly and the racial and gang related clashes were very common. The life was strange to Luis ever since and the street life that was characterized by violence, drugs, prison and death on the one hand, and the conflicting life at the school on the other, pushed him toward the ever widening hands of the gang life. In the gang life, Luis found himself in all the activities related to it. He familiarized himself in the riots, clashes, multiple sexual partners, and other such immoral practices. But the most problematic was his use of drugs and they were accessible to the streets of Los Angeles. The life in the gangs is illustrated in the most realistic manner. He admits the desire to leave the gang life, but he was miserable there. The attempts to get suicide, the vicious ways of the police towards the brownish people and the bad ways of the gang life etc are narrated with utmost sincerity.
“Always Running is required reading in untold umbers of schools, and appears on other reading lists for its rare and unerring account of gang life and Rodriguez’ journey of rebirth and liberation.” (Jeff Biggers, Compassion & Community A Profile of Luis J. Rodriguez). The gang life, though it produced his writing that is the beginning of the autobiography, caused him a feeling of the emptiness due, mainly, to the deaths of his many friends and relatives. The family, at this time, was slowly breaking down. He lost his sister who got involved in the gang life and his brother is soon murdered. The father was never more able to teach and the mother struggled to learn English. “Luis never glamorizes the gang life but manages to explain his reasoning as to why he had to get involved in the lifestyle.” (“Always Running”-Poetic account of LA Gang Life). Instead, we arrive at the conclusion that the intention was to warn the younger generation and to direct them to the right path. Luis ultimately turns to poetry and begins for the advancement of the Chicano people.
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There are many themes that make us consider the work in relation to nihilism. Always Running La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A. “explicate[s] Chicano nihilism by positioning it within the context of a racialized and carceral society that relentlessly engulfs urban minority youth with the threat of violence, imprisonment, and death” and “examine[s] urban nihilism not as pathology, but rather as a consciousness that emerges in direct opposition to the threat of institutional (social and physical) violence and/or death.” The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnics Literature of the United States; Gale Group) The themes of flight and “running” has peculiar meaning as they symbolize Luis’ actual run off from the dangers of violence and death as well as his nihilistic attitude and ruthless denunciation of mainstream institutions and philosophies. The autobiography lifts up from the ordinary level of its kind and goes about discovering, through the narrator’s nihilistic point of view, a meaning in the very condition that marks him as an ethnic stranger. “The refrain “this is not your country” echoed for a lifetime” (Luis J. Rodriguez. Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1993. p 20) The narrator also satisfactorily challenges the image of the gangs created by the media by providing his own perception. The work contextualizes the gang practices by describing it in relation to the issues of class and race. In the work, the narrator points out that nihilism can be positively directed.
In the work, Rodriguez illustrates many an event in the most convincing manner and the power of his writing and style keeps such moments very close to the hearts to the reader. There are several memorable moments that the reader wants not forget at any cost. The themes of the autobiography are very much in line with the overall development of the major themes of the narrator. “Rodriguez’ underlying themes are girded by hope, renewal, and a biting sense of humor.” (Jeff Biggers, Compassion & Community A Profile of Luis J. Rodriguez). The important themes of the memoir like the death, regeneration and flight depict the picture of a modern community that has a prejudiced view of all things about life. The ethnic inequality and racial issues are narrated in the most realistic way and they catch the attention of the reader. The work develops through the narration of the gang life and it is natural telling of the inspired tongue. The way the misery and struggle of the different characters especially of the protagonist is narrated presents the realistic view of life. “The treatment of anguish and desperation experienced by the characters paints a different picture from what is usually cast on television and in the movies.” (THE DIVERSITY CONNECTION, Taking Responsibility for What We Teach, Eileen I. Oliver, Editor Volume Two, 1991-1996 Washington State University, Pullman, Washington).
“Luis Rodriguez is convinced that a writer can change the world. Indeed it is through education and the power of words that Rodriguez saw his own way out of poverty and despair in the barrio of East L.A. and successfully broke free from the years of violence and desperation he spent as an active gang member. Achieving success as an award- winning Chicano poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang himself”. In this vivid memoir, Rodriguez presents his deep conviction about the gang life and his ultimate aim is to inspire the youth against the miserable ways of the gang life. He presents wit a clear picture of the young generation struggling to survive in the trying environment. The arresting narration focuses on the teaching of a life style and the model of social service put forward by the poet-journalist is of great significance in the wider perspective of class, race and ethnic conflict. The poetic treatment of the political explosion through the powerful weapon of words has taken the memoir up to the unlimited spheres of the sky. This is also noticeable that in spite of all these qualities, the work has generated its own share of controversy and it is included in the list of the banned books. However, the poetic, literary and political value of Always Running La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A. is unquestionable.
Jeff Biggers, Compassion & Community A Profile of Luis J. Rodriguez. Web.
Luis J. Rodriguez. ‘Preface’, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1993. p 11.
Luis J. Rodriguez, ‘Hearts and Hands: A New Paradigm for Work with Youth and Violence.’ Social Justice. Volume: 24. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 1997. Gale Group, Page Number: 7
“Always Running”- Poetic account of LA Gang Life. Web.
Vincent Perez, “Running” and Resistance: Nihilism and Cultural Memory in Chicano Urban Narratives. MELUS, Volume: 25. Issue: 2. Publication Year: 2000. Page Number: 133. The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnics Literature of the United States; Gale Group
Luis J. Rodriguez. Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1993. p 20
THE DIVERSITY CONNECTION, Taking Responsibility for What We Teach, Eileen I. Oliver, Editor Volume Two, 1991-1996 Washington State University, Pullman, Washington). Web.